The Prophet has arrived

Early last week, I had a catch up with my friend. He was excited to share with me the new company he just joined. It was ProphetStor. It was a catchy name and after our conversation, I have decided to spend a bit of my weekend afternoon finding out more about the company and its technology.

From another friend at FalconStor, I knew of this company several months ago. Ex-FalconStor executives have ventured to found ProphetStor as the next generation of storage resource orchestration engine. And it has found a very interesting tack to differentiate from the many would-bes of so-called “software-defined storage” leaders. ProphetStor made their early appearance at the OpenStack Summit in Hong Kong back in November last year, positioning several key technologies including OpenStack Cinder, SNIA CDMI (Cloud Data Management Interface) and SMI-S (Storage Management Initiative Specification) to provide federation of storage resources discovery, provisioning and automation. 

The federation of storage resources and services solution is aptly called ProphetStor Federator. The diagram I picked up from the El Reg article presents the Federator working with different OpenStack initiatives quite nicely below:  There are 3 things that attracted me to the uniqueness of ProphetStor.

1. The underlying storage resources, be it files, objects, or blocks, can be presented and exposed as Cinder-style volumes.

2. The ability to define the different performance capabilities and SLAs (IOPS, throughput and latency) from the underlying storage resources and matching them to the right application requirements.

3. The use of SNIA of SMI-S and CDMI Needless to say that the Federator software will abstract the physical and logical structures of any storage brands or storage architectures, giving it a very strong validation of the “software-defined storage (SDS)” concept.

While the SDS definition is still being moulded in the marketplace (and I know that SNIA already has a draft SDS paper out), the ProphetStor SDS concept does indeed look similar to the route taken by EMC ViPR. The use of the control plane (ProphetStor Federator) and the data plane (underlying physical and logical storage resource) is obvious.

I wrote about ViPR many moons ago in my blog and I see ProphetStor as another hat in the SDS ring. I grabbed the screenshot (below) from the ProphetStor website which I thought did beautifully explained what ProphetStor is from 10,000 feet view.

ProphetStor How it works

The Cinder-style volume is a class move. It preserves the sanctity of many enterprise applications which still need block storage volumes but now it comes with a twist. These block storage volumes now will have different capability and performance profiles, tagged with the relevant classifications and SLAs.

And this is where SNIA SMI-S discovery component is critical because SMI-S mines these storage characteristics and presents them to the ProphetStor Federator for storage resource classification. For storage vendors that do not have SMI-S support, ProphetStor can customize the relevant interfaces to the proprietary API to discover the storage characteristics.

On the north-end, SNIA CDMI works with the ProphetStor Federator’s Offer & Provisioning functions to bundle wrap various storage resources for the cloud and other traditional storage network architectures.

I have asked my friend for more technology deep-dive materials (he has yet to reply me) of ProphetStor to ascertain what I have just wrote. (Simon, you have to respond to me!)

This is indeed very exciting times knowing ProphetStor as one of the early leaders in the SDS space. And I like to see ProphetStor go far with this.

Now let us pray … because the prophet has arrived.

Joy(ent) to the World

When someone as important and as prominent as Jason Hoffman reads and follows your blog, you tend to stand up and take notice. I found out last week that Jason Hoffman, Founder and CTO of Joyent, was doing just that, I was deeply honoured and elated.

My Asian values started kicking in and I felt that I should reciprocate his gracious visits with a piece on Joyent. I have known about Joyent, thanks to Bryan Cantrill as the VP of Engineering because I am bloody impressed with his work with DTrace. And I have followed Joyent’s announcements every now and then, even recommending a job that was posted on Joyent’s website for a Service Delivery Manager in Asia Pacific for my buddy a couple of months ago. He’s one of the best Solaris engineers I have ever worked with but the problem with techies is, they tend to wait for everything to fall into place before they do the next thing. Too methodical!

I took some time over the weekend to understand a bit more about Joyent and their solution offerings. They are doing some mighty cool stuff and if you are Unix/Linux buff/bigot like me, you would be damn impressed. For those people who has experienced Unix and especially Solaris, there is an unexplained element that describes the fire and the passion of such a techie. I was feeling all the good vibes all over again.

Unfortunately, Joyent is not well known in this part of the world but I am well aware of their partnership with a local company called XyBase in an announcement in June last year. Xybase, through its vehicle called Anise Asia, entered into the partnership to resell Joyent’s SmartCenter solution. For those who has worked with XyBase in Malaysia, let’s not go there. ;-)

Enough chitter-chatter! What’s Joyent about?

Well, for Malaysian IT followers, we are practically drowned in VMware. VMware does a seminar every 1.5 months or so, and they get invited to other vendors’ events ever so frequently as well. My buddy, Mr. Ong Kok Leong, who was an early employee in VMware Malaysia, has been elevated to superstardom, thanks to his presence in everything VMware. It’s a good thing and kudos to VMware to take advantage of their first-to-market, super gung-ho approach in the last 3 years or so. They have built a sizable lead in the local market and the competitors like Citrix Xen, Microsoft Hyper-V are being left in a dust. I believe only RedHat’s KVM is making a bit of a dent but they are primarily confined to their own RedHat space. Furthermore, most of VMware competitors do not have a strong portfolio and a complete software stack to challenge VMware and what they have been churning out.

Here’s my take … consider Joyent because I see Joyent having a very, very strong portfolio to give VMware a run for its money. Public listed VMware has deep pockets to continue their marketing blitz and because of where they are right now, they have gotten very pricey and complicated. And this blogger intends to level the playing field a bit by sharing more about Joyent and their solutions.

I see Joyent having 4 very strong technologies that differentiates them from others. These technologies (in no particular order) are:

  • node.js
  • ZFS
  • DTrace
  • KVM

These technologies have been proven in the field because Joyent has been deploying, stress testing them and improving on them in their own cloud offering called Joyent Cloud for the last few year. This is true “eating your own dogfood” and putting your money where your mouth is. This is a very important considering when building a Cloud Computing offering, especially in the public cloud space. You need something that is proven and Joyent Cloud is testimonial to Joyent’s technology.

So let’s start with a diagram of the Joyent Cloud Software Stack.

 

Key to the performance of Joyent Cloud is node.js.

node.js as quoted in its website is “Node.js is a platform built on Chrome’s JavaScript runtime for easily building fast, scalable network applications. Node.js uses an event-driven, non-blocking I/O model that makes it lightweight and efficient, perfect for data-intensive real-time applications that run across distributed devices.” The key to this is being event-driven and asynchronous and cloud solutions developed using node.js are able to go faster, scale bigger and respond better. The event-based model follows a programming approach in which the flow of the program is determined by events that occurred.

A simple analogy is when you (in Malaysia) is at McDonald’s. In the past, the McDonald’s staff will service and fulfill your order before they service the next customer and so on. That was the flow of the past. Some time last year, McDonalds’ decide that their front staff would take your order, sends you to a queue and then took the order of the next customer. The back-end support staff would then fulfill your order putting that burger and drink on your tray. That is why they are able to serve (take your money) faster and get more things done. This is what I understand about event-driven, when it is applied in a programming content.

node.js has been touted as the new “Ruby-on-Rails” and it is all about low-latency, and concurrency in applications, especially cloud applications. Here’s a video introducing node.js, by Joyent’s very own Ryan Dahl, the creator of node.js.

Besides performance, you would also need a strong and robust file system to ensure security, data integrity and protection of data as it scales. ZFS is a 128-bit, enterprise file system that was developed in Sun more than 10 years ago, and I am a big admirer of the ZFS technology. I have written about ZFS in the past, comparing it with NetApp’s Data ONTAP and also written about ZFS self-healing properties in dealing with Silent Data Corruption. In fact, my buddy (him being the more technical one) and I have been developing storage solutions with ZFS.

Cloud Computing is complex and you have to know what’s happening in the Cloud. For the Cloud Service Provider, they must know the real-time behaviour of the cloud properties. It could be for performance, resource consumption and contention, bottlenecks, applications characteristics, and even for finding the problems as quickly as possible. For the customers, they must have the ability to monitor, understand and report what they are consuming and using in the Cloud.

The regular used buzzword is Analytics and DTrace is the framework developed for Cloud Analytics. When it comes to analytics, nothing comes close to what DTrace can do. Most vendors (including VMware) will provide APIs for 3rd party ISVs to develop cloud analytics but nothing beats having the creator of the cloud technology given you the tools that they use internally. That is what Joyent is giving to the customer, DTrace, a tool that they use themselves internally. Here’s a screenshot of DTrace in action for Joyent’s SmartDataCenter.

 

I have always said that you got to see  it to know it. Cloud visibility is crucial for the optimal operational efficiency of the cloud.

Joyent already has Solaris Zones technology in its offering. But the missing piece was bare metal hypervisor and last year, Joyent added the final piece. KVM (Kernel-based Virtualization) was ported to Joyent, and KVM is more secure, and faster than the traditional approach of VMware, which relies on binary translation. KVM would mean that the virtualization kernel has direct interaction and communication with the native  x86 virtualization on processors that supports hardware virtualization extension. There is a whole religious debate about native, paravirtualization and binary translation on the web. You can read one here, and as I said, KVM is native virtualization.

There are lots more to know about Joyent but you got to spend some time to learn about it. It is not well known (yet) in this part of the world, my intention in this blog entry is to disseminate information so that you readers don’t have to be droned into one thing only.

There are choices and in the virtualization space, it is just not always about VMware. VMware deserves to be where they are but when one comes into power (like VMware), he/she tends to become less friendly to work it. A customer should not be subjected to this new order of oppression because businesses are there when there are customers. And as customers, they are always choices and Joyent is one good choice.

Whitewashing Cloudsh*t

Pardon my French but I just had about enough of it!

I was invited to attend the Internet Alliance Association‘s event today at OneWorld Hotel. It was aptly titled “Global Trends on Cloud Technology”. I don’t know much about the Internet Alliance but I was intrigued by the event because I wanted to know what the Malaysian hosting and service providers are doing on the cloud. I was not in touch with the hosting providers landscape for a few years now, so I was like an eager-beaver, raring to learn more.

After registration, I quickly went to the first booth behind the front counter. He said he was a cloud consultant, so I asked what his company does. He said they provide IaaS, PaaS and so on. I asked him if I could purchase IaaS with a credit card and what was the turnaround time to get a normal server with Windows 2008 running.

He obliged with a yes. They accept credit card purchases. But the turnaround to have the virtual server ready is 1 day. It would take 24-hours before I get a virtual server running Windows. So, I assumed the entire process was manual and I told him that. He assured me that the whole process is automatic. At the back of my mind, if this was automatic, will it take 24-hours? Reality set in when I realized I am dealing with a Malaysian company. Ah, I see.

A few more sentences were exchanged. He told me that they are hosted at AIMS, a popular choice. I inquired about their Disaster Recovery. They don’t have a disaster recovery. More perplexity for me. Hmmm …

In the end, I was kinda turned off by his “story” about how great they are, better than Freenet and AIMS and so on. If they are better than AIMS, why host their cloud at AIMS?

I went to another booth which had a sign call “1-Nimbus”. The number “1” is the usual 1-Malaysia Logo with the word “Nimbus” next to it. Here’s that “1” logo below.

It was the word “Nimbus” that capture my attention. I thought, “Wow, is this really Nimbus?” Apparently not. Probably some Malaysian company borrowed that name .. we are smart that way. “1-Nimbus, Cloud Backup”, it read. I asked the chap (another consultant), who gave me the brochure, “How does it work?” “Does it require any agent?”

“Err, actually, I am not really technical. Let me refer you to my colleague”. A bespectacled chap popped over and introduced himself as a technical guy. I asked again, “How does this cloud backup work?”. His reply … “Err, it’s not really our product. Go check out the website”, and gave me another brochure.  Damn!

From then on, there were more excuses as I kept repeating the same questions from one booth to another – tell me what you do in the cloud? Right now, I decided to do a pie chart of how I assessed the exhibition lobby floor.

 

I went on. There were about 15 booths. With exception of Falconstor, only one booth managed to tell me some decent stuff. They were KumoWorks and the guy spoke well about their Cloud Desktop with Citrix and iGel thin client. And they are from Singapore. It figures!

I cannot but to feel nauseated by most of the booths at the OneWorld Hotel exhibition lobby. If this is the state our “Cloud Service Providers”, I think we are in deep sh*t. Whitewashing aside and over using the word “Cloud” everywhere is one thing. These guys don’t even know what they are talking about. It is about time we admit that the Singaporeans are better than us. Even they might not know their stuff well, at least they know how to package the whole thing and BS to me intelligently!

And I learned a new “as-a-Service” today. One cloud consultant introduced me to “Application-as-a-Service”. I was so tempted to call it “Ass“.

No more Huawei-Symantec

Huawei-Symantec is no more. Last night, Huawei, the China telecom giant has bought the remaining 49% of Symantec shares for USD530 million.

The joint venture was initially set up in 2007 to focus on 3S – Server, Storage and Security. With the consolidation under one owner, and one name, Huawei will continue to focus on the 3S. And since Huawei owns telco as well, a lot of the 3S solutions will come into play and it is likely that Huawei will become a cloud player as well.

Will SAN or NAS matter if your customer’s storage is in the Cloud?

An interesting question popped into my head yesterday. With all this push into the Cloud, the customer does not own most of the computer equipment. They are just getting services and when they want storage, do you think they care whether their storage is on a SAN or NAS?

I have mentioned this before, Cloud makes a lot of IT stuff irrelevant. Read my previous blog. This means that the demand for IT techies, sysadmins, consultant will suddenly be squeezed into who’s very good, good, not-so-good and the downright bad ones. Let’s the survival-of-the-fittest games begin!

Yes, the SAN and NAS, or even unified storage story doesn’t hold much weight anymore. However, to the cloud service provider, they will be out there looking for what is best for their bottom line, whether it will be a branded box or just a white box if they are willing to build the storage on their own. For those providers who have strong financials, obviously investing in premium brands like EMC, IBM, NetApp, and so on, makes sense because they need someone to blame and penalize when the shit hits the fan. For those who doesn’t have the financial prowess, this presents a whole new economy that resellers, partners, distributors can tap on to – build for these cloud providers at a cheaper price (hint, hint).

However, storage relies on a strong storage operating system to do just that. They are plenty of open source ones. Hey, you can practically build a simple iSCSI or NAS box with Linux. Consumer grade NAS such as NetGear, Synology and DLink have been using open-source Linux to penetrate the low-end, home storage market for years. The cloud providers will be a different ballgame, but the storage piece is fundamentally the same.

Things are changing folks, and for those consultants, product pre-sales, post-sales, sysadmins, operators of storage, you have to evolve to meet this new market. SAN and NAS do not matter anymore when customers are using the cloud services.

p/s: I have been spending time looking at some very, very cool cloud-ready storage operating systems. If you have the time, leave me a comment and we’ll talk. :D

Virtualization and cloud aren’t what they are without storage

I was chatting with a friend yesterday and we were discussing about virtualization and cloud, the biggest things that are happening in the IT industry right now. We were talking about the VMware vSphere 5 arrival, the cool stuff VMware is bringing into the game, pushing the technology juggernaut farther and farther ahead of its rivals Hyper-V, Xen and Virtual Box.

And in the technology section of the newspaper yesterday, I saw news of Jaring OneCloud offering and one of the local IT players just brought in Joyent. Fantastic stuff! But for us in IT, we have been inundated with cloud, cloud and more cloud. The hype, the fuzz and the reality. It’s all there but back to our conversation. We realized that virtualization and cloud aren’t much without storage, the cornerstone of virtualization and cloud. And in the storage networking layer, there are the data management piece, the information infrastructure piece and so on and yet … why are there so few storage networking professional out there in our IT scene.

I have been lamenting this for a long time because we have been facing this problem for a long time. We are facing a shortage of qualified and well experienced storage networking professionals. There are plenty of jobs out there but not enough resources to meet the demand. As SNIA Malaysia Chairman, it is my duty to work with my committee members of HP, IBM, EMC, NetApp, Symantec and Cisco to create the awareness, and more importantly the passion to get the local IT’s storage networking professional voice together. It has been challenging but my advice to all those people out there – “Why be ordinary when you can become extra-ordinary?”

We have to make others realize that storage networking is what makes virtualization and cloud happen. Join us at SNIA Malaysia and be part of something extra-ordinary. Storage networking IS the foundation of virtualization and cloud. You can’t exclude it.